COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Brian Megill sprinted over to Dominic Lamolinara and catapulted into his arms.
The game was over. The unthinkable was no longer a possibility. The season was still alive.
No. 1-seed Syracuse (15-3) bounced back from a two-goal deficit with three minutes remaining to stun Yale (12-5) 7-6 in Saturday’s NCAA tournament quarterfinals at Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium in College Park, Md. SU advances to its first final four since 2009.
The Bulldogs held the Orange scoreless for a season-long 43:18 span and were three minutes away from their first national semifinal appearance since 1990 before the SU offense broke through. Syracuse scored three goals in the final 3:04 – including Dylan Donahue’s game-winner with 13 seconds left – to seize a game that nearly slipped through its fingers.
“As we all know, any win this time of year is a great win,” Syracuse head coach John Desko said.
For a while, though, it looked like the Orange wouldn’t get that win. Yale’s staunch defense held Syracuse scoreless from the 1:22 mark in the first quarter to the 3:04 mark in the fourth quarter.
SU trailed 6-4 as its final four hopes grew dimmer.
Chris Daddio and Ryan Barber anxiously paced the sideline, their posture sullen and their sticks draped against the ground.
But the Orange had been there before. It was there against Princeton, Rutgers and Cornell. Down in the fourth quarter and in need of a comeback.
Megill, JoJo Marasco and Co. almost became the first Syracuse senior class since 1979 to not make the final four. They almost went to the tailgate their family members set up after the game in somber spirits. They almost got an early start on their summer vacations, failing to crack the plateau they knew they could surmount.
Instead, the Orange came back once again.
“At the end we just bared down and took some very, very good shots and some smart shots and we pulled it out,” Marasco said.
Kevin Rice scored with 3:04 remaining, chopping the two-goal deficit in half. Luke Cometti tied the score at 6 less than a minute later, catching a pass from Marasco and whizzing a shot past Yale goalie Eric Natale’s waist.
Then came Donahue’s strike. Marasco toyed with the ball, watching the game clock dwindle. He found Donahue wide open just outside the crease, and Donahue delivered.
“I trust (Donahue) every time,” Marasco said. “He just puts the ball the whole year in the back of the net, and look what he did now in a quarterfinal game. It’s just huge for us.”
The scoring drought was a distant memory. So was SU’s trio of disappointing defeats: its 2010 first-round loss to Army, 2011 quarterfinal overtime heartbreaker against Maryland and 2012 first-round exit against Duke.
The bitter disappointment that left Megill and Marasco in despair was yesterday’s news. This year Yale was the team draped with disappointment, not Syracuse.
“It was a tough pill to swallow for us,” Yale head coach Andy Shay said, his head sinking downward.
In the opening minutes, the game looked like it would be a laugher. Early goals by Marasco and Cometti gave Syracuse a 2-0 advantage. Then Derek Maltz scored off a pinpoint pass from Rice and again later in the opening frame when Donahue found him straight away. Syracuse was up 4-0. A final four berth seemed inevitable.
But Yale bounced back, as it’s done all season. Brandon Mangan scored three goals, Conrad Oberbeck added two and Michael Lipin pushed the Bulldogs’ lead to 6-4 with 13 minutes remaining in the game.
“The more film we watched, the more we realized what a good lacrosse team they were,” Desko said. “They don’t have any weaknesses.”
Yale’s defense – which ranked seventh nationally during the season – buckled down and left the nation’s ninth-best offensive team offensively inept and utterly confused.
Early in the fourth quarter, Rice attempted to replicate his feed to Maltz in the first half. This time the pass was broken up before it reached Maltz’ stick.
The minutes ticked down. The feet on the sideline shuffled. The fans squirmed.
Then came the furious comeback.
After Donahue’s eventual game-winner, Megill sprinted toward Lamolinara, who held up his right hand, urging Megill to wait 13 seconds to celebrate. Their work wasn’t finished yet. Almost.
Thirteen seconds later, when Yale came up empty, Megill flung his body in Lamolinara’s direction. He finally hurdled the final four road block.
Megill isn’t done yet, though. He won’t be satisfied without a national championship.
“There can’t be any letdowns,” Megill said. “We have to keep going.”
Published on May 18, 2013 at 6:09 pm
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